When Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary, fled Arlington House at the start of the Civil War, she gave her personal slave, Selina Norris Gray, the keys to the mansion and responsibility for the grand house the Lees had lived in for 30 years. Gray fulfilled her duties. She is famously credited with saving from marauding Union soldiers numerous heirlooms belonging to George Washington that were stored in the house.Share
Now the National Park Service, which administers Arlington House, has acquired what it says is a rare and previously unknown photograph of Gray and, apparently, two of her eight children. The photograph was spotted last month on the Internet auction site eBay by Park Service volunteer Dean DeRosa. The seller, in England, had found the photo in a box of “unwanted” pictures at a British version of a yard sale.
A Park Service statement said that its nonprofit partner, Save Historic Arlington House, bid on the photograph and, “against stiff competition,” won.
“This is a big deal,” National Park Service spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said Thursday. “It’s incredibly rare to have photos of slaves that we can identify,” she said. “Since slaves were property, it’s really hard to identify the people in images like this. This is a priceless item to add to our collection.” She said the Park Service is sure the double image, which is identified on the back only as “Gen Lees Slaves Arlington Va,” depicts Gray, the older woman in the picture, and probably her children. The Park Service was able to compare the new photo with an identified photo of Gray already in its collection. Anzelmo-Sarles said the new photo is believed to have been taken outside Gray’s slave quarters at Arlington. (Read more.)